After making many moves during the first week of free agency, the Giants have added big names and depth to their roster. Adding depth breeds healthy competition at certain positions and these are the top five position battles heading into mini-camp later this summer:
Starting Free Saftey: Will Hill vs Stevie Brown
Will Hill made serious strides last year when he replaced Stevie Brown in the lineup due to injury. After serving a four-game suspension to start the season, Will Hill started the final 12 games and intercepted two passes and was the NFL’s second-highest rated safety, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2012, Stevie Brown tied Richard Sherman for second in the league in interceptions with eight, and was on the fast track to becoming one of the top safeties in the league. However Brown was derailed when he suffered a torn ACL in the preseason against the Jets last year. Brown is young and ball hawking skills could develop into some of the best in the league, but players coming off major knee surgery traditionally take an extra year to get back to full speed.
Projected Winner: Will Hill (as long as he stays out of trouble)
Slot Receiver: Mario Manningham vs Jerrel Jernigan
Before two injury plagued season’s in San Francisco, Mario Manningham caught 160 passes and for just over 2,300 yards in four years with Eli Manning. While those number might not seem that impressive, keep in mind he posted those numbers playing behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in a primarily run first offense. Manningham is sure handed but, he will have to prove he can stay healthy. Jerrel Jernigan burst onto the scene during the last three games of the year after being relatively ineffective in his first three seasons. In those final three games Jernigan caught 19 balls for 237 yards and also ran for 57 yards on two carries including a 49-yard touchdown run. Despite his recent success he is still relatively unproven and will need show he can consistently produce.
Projected Winner: Mario Manningham
Nickel Corner: Trumaine McBride vs Walter Thurmond III
Thurmond, formerly from the “Legion of Boom” in Seattle, didn’t put up overly impressive numbers, but he is a young player with good size and speed to cover slot receivers. At 5’11” he matches up better with taller, stronger receivers and is able to play both man and zone coverage. McBride played well when called into action last season and deserves the right to compete simply on merit. However his size is a problem and was exposed at times.
Projected Winner: Walter Thurmond III
Starting Weak Side Linebacker: Spencer Paysinger vs Jacquian Williams
Both have been with the Giants for their entire three year careers, and both have been key contributors. Spencer Paysinger is the incumbent starter. He finished last season with 65 tackles and started 11 of the 16 games at the weak side position last season. Paysinger was the only one of the Giants’ restricted free agents to receive a right of first refusal tender which shows that the Giants still hold him in high regard. However, Jacquian Williams did seem to pass Paysinger on depth chart later in the season. In the past, knee problems have kept him on the sidelines but he seemed to make the most of his opportunities when healthy last season. Williams is the more athletic of the two which makes him more valuable in coverage situations, but he needs to prove that he can play consistently at the same level that he finished at last season.
Projected Winner: Jacquian Williams
Starting Fullback: Jon Conner vs Henry Hynoski
This could be one the more understated battles of the summer. Fullback is usually not a position of much importance in today’s NFL, but Ben McAdoo’s offense could feature the position more than most do. John Kuhn is a frequently used part of Green Bay’s offense in both the running and passing attack, and not just as a blocker. Since he joined the Packers in 2007, Kuhn has gained 488 yards on the ground and 478 yards on 71 receptions. Unfortunately, the Giants do not have an athletic fullback like Kuhn, but their new offensive coordinator may plan on using both of them to do different things. Conner is the better runner while Hynoski is a more proficient receiver.
Projected Winner: None, both players will split time.